Former Olympian calling for Canadian athletes to boycott Beijing Winter Games

A former Olympian says Canada’s athletes should join the country’s ambassadors and politicians in boycotting the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.

Drew Neilson of B.C., who competed in snowboarding at the 2006 Turin Games and 2010 Vancouver Games, says it’s unconscionable that athletes want to compete in a country known for its human rights violations.

Earlier this month, America, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Games, saying athletes can go if they want, but politicians and dignitaries will be staying home.

“We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Dec. 8, “and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns for human rights violations.”

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Neilson, who never medalled at the Olympics, said Canada’s boycott should have included the country’s athletes as well.

“I just think it’s a cop-out. It’s a really weak statement on what we’re trying to say as human beings on this planet,” Neilson replied when asked about Canada’s boycott.

Neilson said Canadians should be compassionate and look at the rest of the world as to what’s going on. Further, he noted that Canada is going through reconciliation, yet reiterated that the country is sending a delegation of athletes to a country with known crimes against humanity.

Click to play video: 'Former ambassador weighs in on Canada’s China strategy following diplomatic boycott of Winter Olympics'
Former ambassador weighs in on Canada’s China strategy following diplomatic boycott of Winter Olympics

“The list (of crimes against humanity in China) goes on and on,” said Neilson. “If (we) look at what happened with the coronavirus, they hid it from the world for 30 days before they told anybody.

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“It’s documented stuff like this that we cannot let them get away with this. And as far as athletes are concerned, I’m disgusted that any of them can turn a blind eye to this and go over there to compete for their medal so that they can cash in on this and satisfy their urge for competition.”

He added, “I don’t get it, I don’t understand it at all.”

Neilson was bluntly asked if he was still competing, would he go?

“Absolutely not,” said Neilson, who grew up in Vernon but now lives in Vancouver. “Humans are more important than gold medals or pieces of metal.”

Further, Neilson says one aspect he’s never discussed before is athlete safety. With the two Michaels saga having ended two months ago, he wonders if Canadian athletes will be safe while in China.

“What if they detain someone from another country?” asked Neilson. “What if an athlete stands on the podium and pulls up their shirt and there’s a ‘Free Tibet’ (logo)? What happens to them?”

Click to play video: 'Superpower standoff: U.S. launches diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics'
Superpower standoff: U.S. launches diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics

Neilson noted that being a former Olympian who doesn’t have to weigh the hard decision to compete or boycott, he’s fully aware many may disagree with him.

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“I’m not doing this for publicity or financial gain. I’m doing this because I think it’s right,” said Neilson. “Whether it’s later or not, or whether people call me a schmuck or say, ‘Who’s this guy? He doesn’t have any medals,’ or ‘Why are we listening to this guy?’

“It’s about human rights. It’s about doing the right thing for people in the world who are suffering.”

On Dec. 6, in the U.S., White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that America would not be sending any diplomatic representation to China for the Olympics, stating “we have a fundamental commitment to promoting human rights,” later adding “we cannot leave global diplomacy on the shoulders of athletes who have been training their whole lives to compete in the Olympics.”

Neilson says the athletes had an option to boycott, via the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which is a link between athletes and the IOC.

Click to play video: 'Canada joins allies in diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics'
Canada joins allies in diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics

“It is on the shoulders of athletes,” said Neilson. “They have an Athletes’ Commission.

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“A very good question would be to ask Hayley Wickenheiser, who sits on the IOC Athletes’ Commission. I would like to know her answer as to what she thinks about these Games happening in this country beneath this brutal regime.”

Neilson claims to have reached out to several athletes who will compete in Beijing, but has yet to hear back from them.

“I’m sorry for those 1980 athletes, but I think that was the right thing to do. We cannot stand for world aggression like this. We cannot let this happen.”

Global News has reached out to the Canadian Olympic Committee for comment.

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